March 17, 2011

Week 26: The Banter

Hey, Hey, What Do You Say?

By Sean Claes
So, you've written a bunch of songs that are ready for the public. Maybe, you've cut a CD or two. You've played a few shows here and there. You've got a website or blog or Facebook or MySpace and are promoting the shows you are playing. The band has their stuff down musically. Well... enough to be happy with the live product. You think you've thought of everything.

OK. What are you going to say?
No, not talking about the lyrics of the songs.
Have you thought about banter?
Yeah. In between songs.
You need to talk.

The Biscuit Brothers address a Front Porch Days crowd in 2010.
What do you talk about? It's really up to you, but it’s got to be something. And you should have something in your pocket you can pull out to talk about. There are several types of banter. Some are harder than others, but it all depends on your comfort being a talker between songs. The best banter draws from a number of these "types" but I thought I'd throw out seven different types for you to get a better understanding.

The Conversationalist
Are you the person who can go on about anything? Do you monopolize conversations? Are you a big talker? Well, in case nobody told you before… that trait is somewhat annoying in life. Up on stage it works, though. Why? You are limited by a minute or two between songs. You can't talk too much in between songs.

The Soap-Box Guy
So you are politically aware and aren't afraid to share with everyone your opinion from the stage. If that's going to be your thing, you have to back it up. Talking politics is probably the most dangerous thing to do from stage... because you can alienate people quickly (I disagree with his views so I hate his band). You can also draw people closer to your band that way too (he's one of us... we like that... so we like the band). Hey, everybody needs a cause.

The Jokester
You think you're funny? Well... have a few jokes in your hip pocket to slide in, in between songs. I'd recommend no more than 2 jokes per show. The jokester should not be the primary banter person. It's something that can be planned, but has to look natural.

The Crowd Participation Guy
This is the most important kind of banter you can have. If you get the crowd into it, you've won. If you can engage them in conversation between songs, you REALLY won. I'm not talking about just talking to your buddy Mark about the time you got drunk and puked on a cop’s shoe. I'm talking about having a real conversation where someone (or a few people) in the crowd join in.

The Carnival Barker Guy
This could be a monologue about how awesome Dimebag Darrell was (still is). It could be a statement on the status of your style of music. This type of banter requires you can judge your crowd, treat your gig like a circus where you're job is to get as many people as possible excited enough to pump their fists and follow you through your next song.

The Thanks and Find Us Guy
This is VERY important. This is one that bands get wrong A LOT. Make sure to thank the crowd for being there. Name the other bands in the line-up... "Let's hear is for Dog Face Cow! Up next is Bhe Teatles." Mention the merch table, if you have one. Mention where to find the band online. And TELL THEM WHERE YOU'RE PLAYING NEXT.

The Storyteller Guy
People go to live shows to discover new bands and to hear something more than they can get on an album. I always find it interesting to get the Story Behind The Song. My favorite one that I caught on video was Matt The Electrician explaining the story behind his song "Milo" during a show in 2008.

Here's the catch... have a story... practice the story... people don't just wake up one day and have a fantastic story about their song ready to deliver live.

Things to remember
  1. When you speak into a microphone at a show, you are now the spokesperson for your band. It's no longer your opinion; it's the band's opinion. Be careful to respect the other members enough to know that.
  2. When you make your set list, include the "title" of something you want to make sure to say. Kind of like a banter set-list.
  3. Practice your banter. It doesn't come naturally to most.
  4. If you suck at talking... make sure your songs run into each other... or there's just a few seconds of silence between. If there's any long silence, you have lost listeners.
  5. You ARE the show. The songs are what brought them in. The band is what makes them enjoy it. The banter is just something to keep people occupied in between songs. It doesn't have to be heavy (although it can be), doesn't need to be important... it just needs to be SOMETHING that people will stay cued into what's happening on stage in between songs.
  6. Go to other shows. Learn from people who do it well. It's a learned trait. You didn't pick up that guitar and instantly know how to play a song. You will not grab a microphone and instantly be great at banter. It's a process. Stay engaged and soon you'll become more comfortable. The more comfortable you get, the better you will be. Break down the 4th wall.

Now, I admit. I don't practice what I preach. I've never been good at banter on stage. I tend to erect a 4th Wall while I'm on stage. I would not be the guy in a band who should carry the banter. I'm the guy who can introduce a band and get off stage before I do anything dumb. I'm not the performer here. I'm the writer. YOU are the performer. Good luck with that.

Sean Claes is the owner of Austin's INsite Magazine and has been a freelance entertainment writer since 1996. For an introduction to his "52 Weeks of DIY Music Advice" visit this link - If you like what you read... please share. To visit Claes' homepage, go here -

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